I have a large number of accounts at various types of social networking sites. Partly this is due to my curiosity to see what's being done, how it differs from other sites, and what makes it special. Sometimes it is due to actual, genuine interest in the site's concept or content. Here's a listing of sites I actually use with some frequency:
- Google Reader
- Google Groups
That's a lot to keep track of right there. I also have languishing but existing accounts with:
Why am I bringing up this increasingly daunting list of sites? Because in my life it is starting to become something of a usability nightmare to handle all these various accounts. Certainly, I could make my life easier - pick a site and use it exclusively - but not one of these sites gives me everything I want in one package. Furthermore, there's no one site that all of the people I want to connect with use. Thus, my problem, and a continuing problem for perhaps everyone who makes much use of the internet today.
Facebook has been making something of an effort to bring your different social networking accounts together in one place. In theory, I should be able to share a news story on Google Reader and have that update reflect in my Facebook news feed. However, that connection (as well as the connections with other sites such as Flickr) has over the past several months proven to be at the best of times not particularly usable or smooth and at the worst times simply broken.
This is where things for the user become really frustrating and complicated. I'm in Google Reader and I find a story that I just need to share with my friends. It's a one step process to get everyone following me in reader to see it, but what of my friends on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter or what if I'd also like to post it to reddit. It's time consuming and takes too much effort to:
a) decide where to post the story and
b) get the posting accomplished.
I have a vision of something much more seemless, that sits above all the other sites and acts essentially as a manager or your activity. Ping.fm, but with a broader use case.
Pause for a second, and I'll chat about Ping for those that have not used it. Simple set up - create an account and link in all your various other accounts. Once you've got that taken care of, you can post status updates to Ping and they'll be automatically sent to every account you've linked in. Having this in my life as at the least made posting status updates easier. No longer do I have to maintain different statuses for Twitter vs Facebook.
That's great, and I do love Ping. However, it doesn't solve the use case above of wanting to share out say - an interesting piece I read in the NYT. True - I could limit myself to sharing links as status updates, but that is not my general style. Additionally, it won't link in reddit or Google Reader which don't have a concept of status updates.
What about FriendFeed then you say? FriendFeed and Plaxo are great aggregaters of content posted at a variety of sites, but they don't feed the content you post there back out to other places. Aggregaters are great, and they can make life a bit easier, but it doesn't solve my problem.
No, what I want to see happen is a site where I can manage my various account and set up rules for how an action taken on one account will reflect in another. For example, a possible set of rules for a given action:
When I "share" an article in Google Reader take the following actions:
- Share the same article in Facebook
- Submit to reddit if the article URL is not already submitted
- Add link to the article to Delicious
There are a lot of possibilities here. What actions could be taken when I post to Flickr or Librarything? Perhaps I could even have a browser plugin that would let me adjust the rules on the fly for certain content.
I think this concept is a long time coming. It's relatively unreasonable to assume that users will at some point decide on a single site and stick to it. There is almost assuredly always going to be this wide array of sites that we play with and update, each with particular strengths or particular audiences. I don't want Facebook to become my RSS Reader, but I do want it to play nice with Google Reader. I don't want Twitter to become Flickr, but maybe I want to let people know when I post new photos without going out of my way.
Individual sites can make a start at this, building Facebook applications and Twitter bots and the like, but I think you won't see a real solution until someone takes the initiative to really bring sites together in a happy playground.
Something to ponder.
Next time, I'll speak to a related topic. Tagging people in Facebook statuses and how that may interfere with, or potentially enhance, @replies in Twitter and how it all works together with Ping.fm.
In the meantime, enjoy this battle of the social networking sites: